Findlay Galleries, Inc., New York
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John R. McFarlin, San Antonio, Texas
Private Collection, UK
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Cyrille Martin.
In 1900, Martin purchased a large, seventeenth-century villa in the village of Labastide-du-Vert in southwest France. Marquayrol became Martin’s summer retreat, and it was here that he would retire from Paris between the months of May and November, revelling in the beauty and serenity of nature that the city lacked. The peaceful surroundings of Marquayrol were to become Martin’s preferred subject matter; as well as the landscape around the property, he depicted every single detail of the house and gardens – the round pool, the terrace, the vineyard, and the gate became recurring themes in his work.
Marquayrol was as important to Martin as the gardens at Giverny were to Claude Monet. It was here that Martin’s unique style, a synthesis of Impressionism with pointillist brushwork, reached its maturity. He used divisionist techniques to convey mood and the ‘diverse effects’ of nature. Taking nature as his new ‘model of beauty’, he repeatedly painted his beloved garden using varying colour schemes to characterise different times of day and year until the very end of his career. Later, Martin wrote: ‘my preoccupation with rendering atmospheric effects increased in the country, face to face with nature. Trying to capture its diverse effects, I was compelled to paint it differently. The natural light, now brilliant, then diffuse, which softened the contours of figures and landscape, powerfully obliged me to translate it any way I could, but other than by using a loaded brush – through pointille and the breaking up of tone’ (from a letter to his friend Bernard Marcel, director of the Marble depot and art critic, quoted in the exhibition catalogue Henri Martin, Musée Henri Martin, Cahors, 1992, pp. 89-90).
Though not considered by scholars as a revolutionary painter, Martin absorbed the radical painting styles of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to develop his own pictorial language. Short, expressive brushstrokes, harmonious compositions and delicately nuanced palette enabled him to capture the beauty of his native France.
Martin was born in Toulouse in 1860. His father was a carpenter, but the young Henri had aspirations to paint. He studied under the noted teacher Jules Garipuy at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse, and in 1879 moved to Paris. A scholarship enabled him to study with the celebrated Academic painter Jean-Paul Laurens – also a former pupil of Garipuy – where he developed a rigorous, academic technique applied to literary and Biblical subjects. He gained his first medal in 1883, aged twenty-three, at the Paris Salon. Additionally, he won the grand prize at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. Later, in 1914, he was named a Commander of the Legion of Honour.
Martin had developed a precise and formal style over years of academic study. All that was about to change, however, when he travelled abroad. Granted a travel scholarship by the Salon in 1885, Martin ventured to Italy. The trip utterly transformed his ideas about art. His immersion in the Italian climate, with its particular qualities of light, and his study of Renaissance painters encouraged a looser, more experimental style. Upon his return to Paris in 1889, Martin moved away from the academic manner of his earlier works and embarked on a lengthy period of experimentation with Symbolism, Impressionism, and Neo-Impressionism. Under the influence of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, Martin adopted Pointillism, which is exemplified by his most successful works.
In a period in which art looked to the modern and abstract, Martin’s work runs against the prevailing tide, looking back to a form of Romantic idealism that was overtaken by other cultural currents in the twentieth century. However, his art still has a universal relevance; as René Albert Fleury commented in his 1905 book on Martin, ‘He celebrates the majesty, the attitude and the labour of life and its everlasting rests. He sings life. His canvases and large frescos, all his works seem to evoke Georgic gods…He was lyrical and religious and still is. There is no genius with less than that.’ (J. Martin-Ferrieres, Henri Martin, Paris, 1967, p. 105.)
Today Martin’s paintings are held internationally in major public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.